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Syria should abandon 'trash talk' on Israel

An all-too-common scene in Syria. AP Photo

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Early this month, newspapers and TV informed us that Israel bombed locations inside Syria not once, but twice. Although Israel didn’t comment, “inside sources” says the targets were munitions factories where missiles were either being stored or made ready to transport to Hezbollah, the Lebanese terror group that is one of Israel’s deadliest enemies.

Syria, for its part, made threatening statements and said these air strikes made it clear that Israel was in league with “al-Qaeda groups,” meaning rebels who are fighting the Syrian government in its bloody civil war. A Syrian government spokesperson also said that the Israeli action was like “a declaration of war” against Syria.

A declaration of war against Syria? That’s somewhat laughable. Syria and Israel have technically been at war with each other since 1949. The Armistice Agreements of 1949 may have gotten a Nobel Prize for Dr. Ralph Bunche, but they basically were just a cease-fire.

During the coming years, Syria often acted like it was at war, shelling Israeli farmers from its vantage point on the Golan Heights. After the 1967, and especially after the later Lebanon war, Syria gave political support to groups such as Hezbollah, which advocate (and often perform) brutal attacks on Israeli civilians and deny Israel’s legitimacy.

Therefore, to say that Syria is “declaring war” on Israel is meaningless. It’s like a playground bully deciding to “declare war” on a smaller kid whom he’s already been harassing for years. 

There have been times, especially during the Oslo era of the 1990s, when Syria and Israel have engaged in direct peace negotiations. According to several sources, these negotiations almost made it—the sticking point was a very small parcel of land, the uninhabited “Shabaa Farms.” One side maintained that it had historically been part of Syria; the other, that it had historically been part of Lebanon. I readily admit that Israel may have been intransigent in this regard—since neither Syria or Lebanon are friends of Israel, why quibble over which one owns this land?

Negotiations have started and stopped over the years. The New York Times reported in 2010 that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Syrian leader Bashir Assad were involved in American-brokered negotiations in which Netanyahu reportedly agreed to give up control of the Golan Heights (the Israel government later denied this). At any rate, the “Arab Spring” the following year basically brought these negotiations to an end. Negotiations in the Middle East often fail because of outside circumstances, such as Israeli elections or Arab in-fighting.

No matter what happened, however, it would have served Syria well to keep the channels of communications open with Israel, rather than falling back on its tried-and-true tactic of engaging in blustering, anti-Israel “trash talk.” It’s true that Mr. Netanyahu has a reputation for being intransigent and is not exactly Mr. Nice Guy. But a more conciliatory leader, similar to Yitzhak Rabin, may well take the reins in Israel sometimes in the future. Peacemakers, just like revolutionaries, must take the “long view.”

One more thing. Some people, upon hearing my arguments, might say, “But what about the oppression of the Palestinians?” My response would be two-fold. I basically agree with the European position and believe in a two-state solution. But this has nothing whatsoever to do with Israeli-Syrian armed conflict. Someone who brings up this argument is like someone who believes that the U.S. is always wrong in every international conflict, from Korea to Afghanistan. In reality, each issue, each episode must be dealt with separately.

May 13, 2013 - 12:00pm


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